"The Whey It Is"
By Will Brink, author of: Muscle Building Nutrition
and Diet Supplements Revealed
"The Whey It Is"
If there is one thing that continues to
perplex me, it is the disparity between how popular whey protein is
(thanks in large part to yours truly) and how much confusion there is
regarding this immensely popular supplement. Why are people so confused
about whey? I have to conclude that it's part deceptive advertising by
some unscrupulous supplement companies, poorly researched articles put
out by self proclaimed "guru" types, and the fact that whey is
indeed a complicated protein. In this article I will endeavor to clear
it all up once and for all? Lift the vale of secrecy, strip away the
myths, and shatter the hyperbole surrounding this ultra popular
By the time you are through
reading this article, you will know all you need to know regarding the
differences in whey, such as concentrates vs. isolates, micro filtered
vs. ion exchange, and many other answers to questions that seem to
persist no matter how hard wise-guy writers like me have tried to
dispense with all the myths and misinformation/disinformation
surrounding whey. Read this article carefully, put it to memory, and you
will be the resident whey expert in the gym and amaze your friends at
the next cookout if whey becomes a topic of discussion (in which case
you go to some boring cookouts!).
What is Whey?
When we talk about whey we
are actually referring to a complex ingredient made up of protein,
lactose, fat and minerals. Protein is the best known component of whey
and is made up of many smaller protein subfractions such as: Beta-lactoglobulin,
alpha-lactalbumin, immunoglobulins (IgGs), glycomacropeptides, bovine
serum albumin (BSA) and minor peptides such as lactoperoxidases,
lysozyme and lactoferrin. Each of the subfractions found in whey has its
own unique biological properties.
Up until quite recently,
separating these subfractions on a large scale was either impossible or
prohibitively expensive for anything but research purposes. Modern
filtering technology has improved dramatically in the past decade,
allowing companies to separate some of the highly bioactive peptides
-such as lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase-from whey.
Some of these subfractions are only found in very minute amounts in
cow's milk, normally at less than one percent. For example, although it
is one of the most promising subfractions for preventing various
diseases, improving immunity and overall health, lactoferrin makes up
approximately 0.5% or less of whey protein derived from cow's milk
(whereas human milk protein will contain up to 15% lactoferrin). Over
the past few decades, whey protein powders have evolved several
generations from low protein concentrates to very high protein isolates.
What's so great about whey?
Whey protein has become a staple supplement for most bodybuilders and
other athletes, and for good reason: it's a great protein with a wide
variety of benefits. Whey has more recently caught on with the
anti-aging/longevity-minded groups also.
A growing number of studies has found whey may potentially reduce cancer
rates, combat HIV, improve immunity, reduce stress and lower cortisol,
increase brain serotonin levels, improve liver function in those
suffering from certain forms of hepatitis, reduce blood pressure, and
improve performance, to name a few of its potential medical- and
sports-related applications. Whey also has an exceptionally high
biological value rating and an exceptionally high Branch Chain Amino
Acid (BCAA) content.
One of whey's major effects is its apparent ability to raise glutathione
(GSH). The importance of GSH for the proper function of the immune
system cannot be overstated. GSH is arguably the most important
water-soluble antioxidant found in the body.
The concentration of intracellular GSH is directly related to
lymphocyte's (an important arm of the immune system) reactivity to a
challenge, which suggests intracellular GSH levels are one way to
modulate immune function. GSH is a tri-peptide made up of the amino
acids L-cysteine, L-glutamine and glycine. Of the three, cysteine is the
main source of the free sulfhydryl group of GSH and is a limiting factor
in the synthesis of GSH (though the effects of whey on GSH is more
complicated than simply its cysteine content).
Because GSH is known to be essential to immunity, oxidative stress, and
general well being, and because reduced levels of GSH are associated
with a long list of diseases, whey has a place in anyone's nutrition
program. Reduced GSH is also associated with over training syndrome (OTS)
in athletes, so whey may very well have an application in preventing, or
at least mitigating, OTS. Pertaining directly to athletes, some recent
studies suggest whey may have direct effects on performance and muscle
mass, but this research is preliminary at best. Some studies have found
oxidative stress contributes to muscular fatigue, so having higher GSH
levels may allow you to train longer and harder, as some recent data
Different types of whey
Most of the confusion surrounding whey appears to be in understanding
the different types of whey: concentrates, isolates, ion exchange, and
others. In the following sections, I will attempt to clear it all up for
Whey Protein Concentrates
First generation whey protein powders contain as low as 30-40% protein
and high amounts of lactose, fat, and undenatured proteins. They are
categorized as a whey concentrate and are used mostly by the food
industry for baking and other uses. Modern concentrates now contain as
high as 70-80% protein with reduced amounts of lactose. This is achieved
through ultra-filtration processing, which removes lactose, thus
elevating the concentration of protein and fat in the final product.
Although much maligned by companies who have invested heavily in
marketing isolates, a well made concentrate is still a high quality
source of whey protein, though it will contain higher levels of lactose,
ash, and fat then an isolate.
The pros and cons of
isolates, and the micro filtered vs. ion exchange debate
Whey Protein Isolates (WPIs) generally contain as much as 90-96%
protein. Research has found that only whey proteins in their natural
undenatured state (i.e. native conformational state) have biological
activity. Processing whey protein to remove the lactose, fats, etc.
without losing its biological activity takes special care by the
manufacturer. Maintaining the natural undenatured state of the protein
is essential to its anti-cancer and immune-modulating activity. The
protein must be processed under low temperature and/or low acid
conditions as not to "denature" the protein. WPIs contain
>90% protein content with minimal lactose and virtually no fat.
The advantage of a good WPI
is that it contains more protein and less fat, lactose, and ash than
concentrates on a gram-for-gram basis. However, it should be clear to
the reader by now that whey is far more complicated than simple protein
content, and protein content per se is far from the most important
factor when deciding which whey to use. For example, ion exchange has
the apparent highest protein levels of any isolate.
Does that make it the best
choice for an isolate? No, but many companies still push it as the holy
grail of whey. Ion exchange is made by taking a concentrate and running
it through what is called an ion exchange column to get an "ion
exchange whey isolate." Sounds pretty fancy, but there are serious
drawbacks to this method. As mentioned above, whey protein is a complex
protein made up of many sub fraction peptides that have their own unique
effects on health and immunity. Some of these subfractions are only
found in very small amounts. In truth, the subfractions are really what
ultimately makes whey the unique protein it is.
Due to the nature of the ion
exchange process, the most valuable and health-promoting components are
selectively depleted. Though the protein content is increased, many of
the most important subfractions are lost or greatly reduced. This makes
ion exchange isolates a poor choice for a true third-generation whey
protein supplement, though many companies still use it as their isolate
source due to the higher protein content. Ion exchange isolates can be
as high as 70% or greater of the subfraction Beta-lactoglobulin, (the
least interesting and most allergenic subfraction found in whey) with a
loss of the more biologically active and interesting subfractions. So,
the pros of an ion exchange whey is for those who simply want the very
highest protein contents per gram, but the cons are that the higher
protein content comes at cost; a loss of many of the subfractions unique
to whey. Not an acceptable trade in my view, considering the fact that
the actual protein differences between a micro filtered type isolate is
minimal from that of an ion exchange.
This segues us nicely into looking at the micro filtered whey isolates.
With the array of more recent processing techniques used to make WPIs-or
pull out various subfractions -such as Cross Flow Micro filtration (CFM?),
ultra filtration (UF), micro filtration (MF), reverse osmosis (RO),
dynamic membrane filtration (DMF), ion exchange chromatography, (IEC),
electro-ultrafiltration (EU), radial flow chromatography (RFC) and nano
filtration (NF), manufacturers can now make some very high grade and
unique whey proteins.
Perhaps the most familiar
micro filtered isolate to readers would be CFM?*. Although the term
"cross flow micro filtered" is something of a generic term for
several similar ways of processing whey, The CFM? processing method uses
a low temperature micro filtration technique that allows for the
production of very high protein contents (>90%), the retention of
important subfractions, extremely low fat and lactose contents, with
virtually no undenatured proteins. CFM? is a natural, non-chemical
process which employs high tech ceramic filters, unlike ion exchange,
which involves the use of chemical reagents such as hydrochloric acid
and sodium hydroxide. CFM? whey isolate also contains high amounts of
calcium and low amounts of sodium.
* CFM = Glanbia Nutritionals,
a large dairy company based in Ireland with production in the US
To sum this section up:
- The pros of ion exchange isolates are extremely low fat and lactose
levels, with the highest protein levels (on a gram-for-gram basis). The
con-which outweighs the pros in my view-is the loss of important
subfractions in favor of higher amounts of Beta-Lac.
- The pros of well-made micro filtered isolates are a high protein
content (90% or above), low lactose and fat levels, very low levels of
undenatured proteins, and the retention of important subfractions in
their natural ratios. There really are no cons per se, unless the person
wants the additional compounds discussed in the next section.
Continued on Page 2
The Future of Whey
See Will Brinks ebooks online here:
Muscle Building Nutrition
A complete guide for bodybuilding supplements and eating to gain lean muscle.
Diet Supplements Revealed
A review of diet supplements and a guide to eating for maximum fat loss.
He can be contacted at: PO Box 812430
Wellesley MA. 02482.
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